When I think of Seattle, I immediately veer into thoughts about Pike Place Fish Market. Visions of giant fish thrown through the air, walls covered in gum, packs of ice being shoveled atop crab and sea oddities, rows upon rows of fresh bundled flowers, and somehow, magically perhaps, I am holding a full Starbucks cup. To be honest, after heading there for a weekend, that scene is very real – even the magical Starbucks cup.
If Seattle lands itself on your list, here are my top suggestions.
You have to stay at the Kimpton Alexis Hotel. Let me tell you why.
Located in downtown Seattle, the luxury boutique hotel touts a whole host of accolades, even being named one of the Top Hotels in the Pacific Northwest by Condé Nast Traveler (2019). I recommend one of the suites. Set up as a minimal downtown condo, they have spacious rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows, curated local art on the walls, in-room bar carts, and the most swoon-worthy bathroom you could imagine. Even the lobby makes you feel like home!
Built in 1901, the hotel is in Seattle’s oldest neighborhood. Located across the street from where the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 ended, it once served as the Alaska Gold Standard Mining offices and the treasurer’s office for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition during the Klondike Gold Rush. It is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel is perfect for a weekend away as it is only two blocks away from the downtown Seattle waterfront and is close to everything.
Before heading out to see the waterfront, stop by Kimpton’s in-hotel restaurant Bookstore Bar and Café for breakfast.
Serving up contemporary and traditional favorites in their brick-walled enclave of a dining room during the day and handcrafted pours from 130-plus varieties of scotch and whiskey against the backdrop of their library bar by night, Bookstore is good for any time of the day.
More of a breakfast gal myself, I recommend the Bookstore Breakfast or the eggs Benedict.
Before you head to the waterfront, stop by the Storyville Coffee Company located next door. The place is everything you could want in a coffee house, with leather couches, exposed rustic beams, and barstool seating along with the windows, giving you a front-row seat to the city block outside. Named as one of Seattle’s up-and-coming coffee purveyors, Storyville has all sorts of reason you should stop in, well beyond a simple cup of coffee. (1) They offer free samples of their milks. If you aren’t sure and want to know if you like almond, soy, or oat more, Storyville has you covered. (2) They give a free mug when you sign up for their mailing list. (3) They have a whole host of coffee hardware that you can buy like an electric water kettle, conical burr grinder, or a coffee press. You can even buy Keurig cups of Storyville coffee to bring home. (4) People rave over their lemon cakes and breakfast sandwiches. ‘Nuff said.
With coffee in hand, head down the block to Elliot Bay. Elliot Bay is home to the Port of Seattle, part of the Central Basin region of Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, and part of the Salish Sea. Seattle was founded on this body of water in the 1850s. In 2002, the Port was named the 9th busiest port in the United States and the 46th busiest in the world. It is incredible to see all the shipping containers everywhere. There are numerous piers that extend into the bay, especially along Seattle’s Central Waterfront. A little foreshadowing into where you’ll be headed, Piers 57 and 59 house tourist destinations, including the Seattle Great Wheel and the Seattle Aquarium.
As you follow along the boardwalk, you’ll run into Pier 57 Miner’s Landing, you can’t miss it.
The bright, neon lights will usher you into the one-stop shop. Pier 57 (originally Pier 6), was built in 1902 for the John B. Agen Company. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul was commonly known as the “Milwaukee Road,” so the pier became known as the “Milwaukee Pier.” It soon became the terminal for the McCormick Steamship Line, the Munson McCormick Line, and Osaka Shosen Kaisha, and by the mid-1930s was also known as the “McCormick Terminal.” In the 1950s, at least part of the pier was used for fish processing. By the 1960s, the Port of Seattle owned the pier, but it had fallen into disrepair.
As of late, it is privately owned and now has gift shops, tourist attractions like Wings over Washington and the Great Wheel (this will come up later), and eateries like the Alaska Sourdough Bakery and Crab Pot.
If you are looking for a place to try, I highly endorse Crab Pot for their famous strawberry rhubarb moist yellow cake. It may sound unsuspecting, but don’t let the name fool you. This is a full cake, served in a pan, baked fresh and served warm on a cutting board. It. Is. Heaven.
The apex of any trip to Seattle is a visit to the Pike Place Fish Market. It is Seattle’s most popular tourist destination and is the 33rd most visited tourist attraction in the world with more than 10 million visitors annually.
One of the biggest reason people visit is for the fishmongers crowd-pleasing theatrics. As onlookers amass, they toss the huge daily catch through the air with a comrade catching it and wrapping behind the counter.
While it is widely known for the seafood throwing, the Seattle institution is so much more. Started in 1907, Pikes Place Market was Seattle’s first farmers market and is now the largest. It is also one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States.
It is located on the waterfront and sits on nine acres of the Market Historic District overlooking Elliott Bay. Named after the central street, Pike Place runs northwest from Pike Street to Virginia Street and is built on the edge of a steep hill.
It consists of several lower levels located below the main floor.
It is home to the aforementioned seafood slingers, fresh produce stands, antique dealers, comic book stores, collectible shops, butchers, florists, bakers, specialty vendors, one of the oldest head shops in Seattle, and a wide range of restaurants.
Specifically, more than 30 restaurants ranging from quick delis to fine dining. Interesting fact: The Athenian Seafood Restaurant and Bar from 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle is one of the market’s oldest restaurants.
As you check out the lower levels, make your way outside to Post Alley. You have to visit the Market Theater Gum Wall.
The Gum Wall, as it has come to be more widely known is outside of Market Theater. Much like Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California, the wall is a local landmark. The tradition began around 1993 when patrons of Unexpected Productions‘ Seattle Theatresports stuck gum to the wall and added coins. Theater workers scraped the gum away but eventually gave up. It has since been named one of the top 5 germiest tourist attractions. As fun as it is to see, it is definitely disgusting. Interesting fact: A scene from 2009’s Love Happens was shot at the wall.
When coming up from the alley, don’t forget to snap a shot of one of the most iconic marquees in the world. While you’re on the other side of the street, pop into Beecher’s. Beecher’s is a cheese-making facility and deli.
It is considered an anchor of the Pike Place Market, and has become its own tourist attraction. During the day, you can watch through windows as the cheesemakers do their magic. Beecher’s also manufactures and sells its famous macaroni and cheese dishes nationally. They have been featured on The Martha Stewart Show and on Oprah, with the “World’s Best” Macaroni and Cheese featured as one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things.” While there, you can pick up some of their Flagship cheese (my personal favorite) or a host of other kinds. I recommend the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.
With a fresh bouquet and parchment wrapped grilled cheese in hand, make your way to the world’s first Starbucks coffee shop. It is just a few doors down.
Be aware that there will be a line out the door and it doesn’t slow down once inside. It opened at Pike Place Market in 1971 and can still be found with its original look and feel in the same location. They even sport the old-school logo! A bit of history; Starbucks was founded by Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegel, across the street from the historic Pike Place Market in Seattle. They named it “Starbucks” after the first mate in Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick. It has since grown to become the largest coffeehouse chain in the world.
After you have had your fill of everything Pikes, grab your walking shoes and start on your way to Olympic Sculpture Park.
The park is on the waterfront and consists of a 9-acre outdoor sculpture museum and beach. It is situated at the northern end of the Seattle seawall and the southern end of Myrtle Edwards Park, just one mile north of the Seattle Art Museum.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it today but this area was an industrial site that was occupied by the oil and gas corporation Unocal until the 1970s. It became a contaminated brownfield until the Seattle Art Museum transformed it into Seattle’s largest downtown green space. Created and operated by the Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park is free and open to the public. It is the perfect place to take in the bay and sink into the environment around you.
It also gives a great view of the Space Needle.
The Space Needle is an observation tower and city landmark. It is widely considered an icon of Seattle. It was originally built in the Seattle Center for the 1962 World’s Fair. Once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River, it is 605 ft and has a whopping 25 lightning rods. If you have a chance to make it to the top you can get an incredible view of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay, and surrounding islands. So worth it.
Just outside the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass.
The Chihuly Garden and Glass is an exhibit in the Seattle Center showcasing the studio glass of Dale Chihuly. Chihuly is an American glass sculptor and entrepreneur. Chihuly was born in nearby Tacoma and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Rhode Island School of Design, where he experimented with glass, neon gas, steel, and Plexiglas. Chihuly’s work features three primary components: The Garden, the Glasshouse, and the Interior Exhibits.
Arguably the most photogenic museum around, it includes a 100-foot-long installation inside of the Glasshouse. It is one of Chihuly’s largest suspended sculptures. He has many of his works in the secondary spaces including café, a 50-seat theater and lecture space.
Interesting fact for Minnesotan’s: Even if you haven’t been to Seattle, you have likely come across Chihuly’s work. You can find his Sunburst at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It is made up of more than 1,000 individual pieces of glass and 100 feet of neon tubing and weighs more than 3,000 pounds. His Silver Tiger Print Basket Set with Orange Lip Wraps is also at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. His Clear and Silver Chandelier is at the Kathryn A. Martin Library at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Finally, you can see his work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
When you walk back to the hotel, make sure you check out the Seattle Aquarium. Opened in 1977 and located on Pier 59 on the Elliott Bay, the aquarium has all sorts of unique exhibits to see. Window on Washington Waters replicates the coastal waters of Washington state and features marine life that are native to the area including salmon, rockfish, and sea anemones. Crashing Waves and Life on the Edge teach you about Seattle’s intertidal zone and the tidepool life of Washington’s outer coast and of Seattle’s inland sea. Life of a Drifter gets you up close and personal with moon jellies, and a giant Pacific octopus. There is also a man-made coral reef, an exhibit for ocean oddities including pinecone fish, cowfish, flying gurnards, potbellied seahorses, and short dragonfish, and an aviary for coastal birds. The Marine Mammals area includes exhibits for harbor seals, Northern fur seals, sea otters, and river otters. The aquarium has so much to offer, I recommend setting aside a few hours just to take it all in.
By the time you leave the aquarium, the sun is likely to have set, giving you a chance to see the Port of Seattle perfectly. There is no better way to see the port, aside from maybe the Space Needle, than The Seattle Great Wheel at Miner’s Landing.
The 12-minute, three-revolution ride extends 40 feet out over Elliott Bay and I honestly can’t endorse it enough. There are 42 climate-controlled gondolas, each able to carry up to eight passengers. The trip isn’t for the faint of heart. If you are scared of heights, this one might not be for you.
For me, there is no better way to end a trip to Seattle than to watch the glow of the city lights against the bay.
Whether you are all-in, or one to pick and choose, Seattle is worth the experience. For an easy recap, save your very own Seattle, Washington Bucket List below.